“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” my wife said with a furrowed brow as she zipped up the little snowsuit on my 5-year-old Scotty. Against her better judgment, she was going along with what in those days – the late 1960s – amounted to parental participation in truancy.

Scotty, who loved to fish for perch at camp in the summer, had never been ice fishing. It was one of those soft, bright windless days of early March. I had only one class in graduate school and, except for Scotty’s kindergarten obligation, everything was right. The ice beckoned.

Scotty let his excitement show as we kissed mother goodbye and headed for a pickerel pond not far from Old Town.

The morning sun was inching over the horizon as Scotty and I, our hands full of gear, began the half-mile walk to the pond. “How could any kindergarten teacher begrudge a student a day afield with his Dad?” I asked myself, feeling a bit guilty.

Halfway to our fishing hole, the deep snow and the bulky snowsuit got the best of Scotty. His enthusiasm waned. We were commited to this particular outing, in more ways than one; I kneeled down and had him climb into my spacious packbasket with the tipups and hot dogs.

A slight breeze stirred as we found a spot near shore where we could start a fire out of the wind. A short distance away, I began the hard part of ice fishing in those days – hacking through 2 feet of ice. Scotty took a turn with the chisel. I showed him how to wrap the chisel rope around his wrist so that he wouldn’t lose the crude tool through the ice hole.

As Scotty carried on a conversation with a dozen shinners darting about the bottom of my bait bucket, I showed him how to clear the hole of ice with a ladle and set up a tipup. I hooked on a shinner and dropped the line into the dark ice hole. It was readily apparent that he was “hooked,” even before we’d had any action.

He fired a stream of questions as we walked back to shore to warm our hands. Before I could light a match, Scotty started jumping up and down, yelling “Tipup, Daddy, tipup!”

Sure enough, one of our two tipups was sprung, the small red flag signaling early action. Racing me to the action hole, Scotty – with a big grin and wide eyes – made it in record time. (How come his snow suit didn’t hamper his mobility, like it did on the way in?)

Together, we kneeled by the hole and peered in. The tipup reel just below the icy water was spinning like crazy. “The fish is running with it, Scotty,” I explained. “Let’s wait for him to stop. Then we’ll set him.”

Reminding myself that I was more a teacher this day than an angler, I showed my son how to carefully lift the tipup out of the hole, while at the same time making sure that the line was free, allowing the fish to run again if it chose to.

At my cue, Scotty wrapped his mittons around the taut line and gave a tug. “I gotta fish,” he said and began bringing in his quarry hand over hand. I cringed as the spare line got tangled about his boots and the base of the tipup. Scotty could have cared less about tidy line at that point.

The pickerel had run out a lot of line. As Scotty did battle that March morning, I saw focused concentration on his small face that I had not seen before. I wished his teacher and his mother could have witnessed it. But perhaps they already had, and I was just noticing it for the first time.

But, it was not to be. Before we could get the pickerel up the hole, it made a last desperate run and spit out the hook. My little boy was crestfallen.

Another life lesson from outside the classroom. We rebaited the tipup and walking back to the fire. I explained that fish often get away, and that that is part of the game.

“There will be other chances,” I promised.

And sure enough, there were other chances that day. Together we chased tipups, baited hooks and put a couple of nice pickerel on the ice. In between, we fed the hungry softwood fire and roasted hotdogs on alder sticks.

All in all, it was a splendid day to play hooky. As Scotty and I headed across the pond into a lowering sun, I knew that at the supper table that night, my recounting of the day would help ease a mother’s concern about her son’s day of missed school.

Today, more than 30 years later, when I watch Scotty (Lt. Col. Reynolds) leave the ground at the controls of his KC-135 refueling tanker, the day we played hooky comes back to me. I still see him in my old packbasket and I wonder. When he flies those Big Birds, does the concentration show in his face, the same wonderful way way it did that sparkling March day when he tried to subdue his first pickerel through the ice?

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.